FORT MYERS, Fla. — Earlier this summer, Lauren MacNeill received a curious bill from a collection agency. It said she owed $71 to an urgent care center she had never visited.
“I believe they just made a mistake,” she said. “I had never been to this emergency care. When I was telling this whole story to my son, and he was like, “All this for only $71?” And I said “yes”. But can you imagine if it was for thousands of dollars?
MacNeill reached out to Consumer Reports investigative reporter Lisa Gill for help.
“Lauren’s case is a classic example of why you should almost always hit pause when contacted by a debt collector about a medical bill,” Gill said.
Fort Myers attorney Leland Garvin agrees.
“We’ve definitely seen situations where people have been double-billed,” Garvin said. “Maybe where the bills overlapped.”
If you are contacted by a debt collector for a medical bill that you think is incorrect, never pay it right away. Instead, Consumer Reports says to take some action.
Gather as much information as possible, including the name of the collection agency, the person you’re talking to, their phone number, address, and email address. You should also get as much information about the bill as possible from the agency and the health care provider.
Garvin says that in many cases there could be an overlap in bills resulting in additional charges.
“We try to go through those invoices and really verify if they were actually provided to the person,” he says. “So that would be where I would start, the actual billing, and then you would want to match that with the records as well.”
Then ask the debt collector to send a debt verification. You can expect to receive debt information in the mail within about five days of your request.
If the verification letter indicates an error, file a dispute in writing by email or certified letter within 30 days. After 30 days, the collection agency will assume the debt is valid.
“We ended up asking Lauren to send a certified letter documenting the alleged errors and stating that she had no obligation to pay the bill,” Gill said. “She still hasn’t heard back, so she doesn’t have to pay the debt.”